Radio waves are still the main way to communicate with spacecraft, but the outdated technology may soon receive an update that will allow the transfer of information between the Earth and space much faster. To this end, NASA, as part of the XCOM project, is preparing to test a new X-ray communications system, which will be conducted on board the International Space Station. System plan to experience in the coming months.
To test the communication system, NASA is going to use two devices. The first is the NICER device installed outside the ISS, which is engaged in fixing X-rays coming from neutron stars. Last year, the US aerospace agency using this device demonstrated the ability to use data from millisecond pulsars as GPS to calculate the position of a space station in orbit with an accuracy of 4.8 km.
Triple Modulated X-ray Source (MXS)
The second device will be a modulated x-ray source (MXS), which will also be installed beyond the ISS. Using this device, binary messages will be encoded into X-rays, which will then be sent to NICER. The latter, in turn, will have to decipher them. The distance between the two devices will be 50 meters. The transmitted message will be simple, noted on the NASA website, so that the device can catch it and correctly decrypt it. If the first test is successful, then the next test is to send a more complex message.
If everything goes according to plan, X-ray communications will be used to transmit data on a whole range of spacecraft. X-rays have much shorter wavelengths than radio waves or even laser communication systems. This means that they will allow more data to be transmitted in denser rays, effectively increasing the transmission speed of these messages, which is most important when communicating over very long distances.
Another potential advantage of the X-ray communication system is that X-rays are capable of passing through a hot plasma, which usually interrupts the transmission of radio waves, for example, when a spacecraft passes through dense layers of the earth’s atmosphere. Thus, an X-ray communication system will allow spacecraft crews to stay in touch with the control center, even during such periods.